Migratory Birds Bring Joy to Birders at FullersBird Fridays
By Charlotte Ward, Forest Preserve Visitor
In our fast-paced lives, how often do we stop, look and listen to take in our surroundings? Yet, when we do, the natural world comes alive with wonderful sights and sounds.
On a stunning Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., 24 nature lovers gathered and listened as the air filled with high-pitched trills, chirps and tweets at Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook. Forest Preserve District Naturalist Keriann Dubina opens patrons’ eyes and ears to the world of birds, matching the pitches, rhythms, flutters and flaps to an array of wildlife. The popular FullersBird Friday walks take place each week in spring with this knowledgeable naturalist pointing out a host of migrating birds.
Dubina directs our crowd towards house finches, blue jays and tree swallows. Next, binoculars poised, we pause in front of marshland, as two red-winged blackbirds flit around.
We walk on through the majestic grounds of the preserve where eagle-eyed Dubina spots a ruby-crowned kinglet. “He’s right at the top of the tree,” she says. “Listen to his call. It is up and down and really fast.”
The ability to instantly match birds to calls is an impressive skill that Dubina — a lifelong lover of birds — studied at college.
“I had an ornithology professor whose knowledge and ability to identify birds by call blew me away,” she reveals later. “The first time I saw him in action it made me want to learn bird calls. I went on to get a master’s degree and study bird behavior.”
The ruby-crowned kinglet is hard to follow with binoculars as it darts from branch to branch. Retired teacher Judy Dobric and Patty Dywam, a member of DuPage Birding Club, look up the bird in a birding guide and we admire the crimson plume on its head.
We follow Dubina past Mayslake’s chapel and over a grassland towards the lake, spotting a red-bellied woodpecker and a northern cardinal en route.
As we gather by a beautiful willow tree, Dubina directs small groups to creep through a gap in the trees to the bank of the lake. There, we spot blue-winged teals, identifiable by the moon shape on their faces.
The timid ducks usually start to appear in Illinois towards the beginning of March and stay in the area until November before migrating to Central and South America for the winter.
Our peaceful amble continues along a woodland trail as the taps of a downy woodpecker echo across the treetops. There is much excitement as Dubina spots a majestic-looking osprey across the lake. He is recognizable by his brown feathers and white cap. The bird-of-prey is a welcome sight given that environmental pollution had a devastating effect on the osprey population in the 1950s and 60s. Conservation work in recent years has helped the species flourish once more.
Another surprising sight is a green-and-blue-feathered monk parakeet! “There are colonies around the area that likely started from escaped pets,” says Dubina. “It’s a weird bird to see at Mayslake!”
Our walk concludes with a ramble across stunning prairie and then a last circuit around Mayslake Hall. Eager birders in the group are already talking about meeting up for next week’s walk.
“We get a lot of repeat people who know each other,” says Dubina. “I love the camaraderie and the relationships people have built over the years. Even if we don’t see the birds, everyone is having a good time! There is a common interest for birds that they share.”
One of Dubina’s regulars is Douglas Thornton who plans to be on every walk this season. “I’ve been watching birds since I was six-years-old,” he says. “Now I am 70 and in the past six years, I have tripled my knowledge coming on these walks. Once you attend regularly, you don’t even need to see the birds close up to identify them. It is a combination of voice and how they fly.”
He adds that he is still holding out for one bird in particular.“I’d love to see a bluebird again,” he says wistfully. “I saw them during my childhood in Maine. They are a rare and wonderful sight.”